I firstly want to apologize for not posting this before, as I have been dealing with a traumatic amount of work, finals and equations flying all over the place. The perks of being an engineer.
But there I was and my cute butt in South eastern Africa. Tanzania. The paradise island of Zanzibar. What a place!. I honestly was not expecting that such a far away piece of land would create such a magical feeling in my guts and heart.
After a harrowing Senegalese visa denial and a trip re-arrangement that included 50 hrs. of flying and “sleeping” through Madrid (cheers Emilio, I owe you this one bro!), Brussels (cheers Belgian beer, I love you!) and somewhere over Egypt and the UAE, at 20:00 hrs. I was landing on the african island of Zanzibar. Sleepless, clumsy and stupid was my head and body when I didn’t pick up my travel journal and left it in the carry-on luggage compartment. Still awaiting a response from the airline saying -Dear Mr. Maqueo, we have you journal. PS: You’re stupid- Sounds quite unlikely after 3 weeks but hey, optimism dies the last. Aaanyhow, I had several mixed emotions when I landed there; part of it was because it’s one of those places that make you say stuff like:-I don’t know why but I need to go there…I NEED IT- so as the song “Africa” by TOTO was at max. volume on my iPod, the drums within all its glory and then KA-BOOM the 33ºC heat wave and 98% humidity crashed against my skin, bones and triple layer shoes. -WHOOOA IT’S HOT!- I said, as I immediately started sweating as if I was in a sauna. I know I know, it’s not thaaat hot, but please understand that I’ve been living in cold places for the last couple of years and I’m also a living boiler, i.e. I get overheated when walking at 8ºC (Yes, I’m the one to hug during cold times). The smell of the rain, of the soil, of the tropical state I was falling in, everything immediately kicked in and provoked a big smile from cheek to cheek.
After a successful visa and passport control, the warm welcoming message of the police and exchanged some thousands of tanzanian chellins in my wallet, I quickly found myself in a cab on the way to the most populated area of the island where I spent one night: Stone Town. The driver called “Musa” said in swahili: -Jambo! Hakuna matata!-, which is hello, no problem! in english. A revelation occurred when I realised that “The Lion King” was based in Tanzania and hence the hakuna matata. That night I had a delicious and original chicken curry, spicy beans and rice and felt like I was ready to sleep for 18 hrs straight. Wrong. The place I stayed in, as clean and presentable it was, it had only a fan on the ceiling. -Ah should be grand!-I said. The fan at maximum warp speed, all windows open, 31ºC, I was basically naked and I felt as if the mattress was on fire. It reminded me of the hot “southern winds” that strike Catemaco, my home town back in Mexico and also reminded me of the a bit orthodox words my first boss said to me in a metallurgical facility at 47ºC:-you fuck with the heat? It will fuck you. You d0n’t? It will fuck you anyway.- To what I basically stopped whining, just focused on my breathing and managed to get some decent hours of sleep.
The next day I ate for breakfast one of the tastiest mangos I’ve had in the last couple of years. All the available fruits were actually fresh and delicious. Finished and had the chance of making a tour called “The spice tour”, where basically you walk into and through the harvesting farms of most of the spices and fruits of the planet, as one or several workers of the farm explain you the harvesting and further processes. As a cultural data, Zanzibar is known as the spice island, since spices like pepper, curry, tamaroc, ginger, cinnamon, old spice, flowers like vanilla or the one out of which Chanel No.5 is taken from and tropical fruits like mangos, lemons, limes, oranges, bananas, pine apples, lichies, among others, are either originally from here or were imported during the old colonization days from several and diverse regions of the world. The good weather, the rain and the soil did the magic and voilà, spices and trees everywhere. I was having a lot of fun! tasting fresh fruits and seeds, incredible variety of smells all around me and suddenly a lad that is popularly known as “Mr. Butterfly” said:-you want a coco cola?- to what I said -ahhh whatever that is, ye sure!- and he started climbing up a 10 something meter palm tree with just hands and feet, cut a HUGE coconut with a machete and opened it for me to drink. It was bloody impressive.
Afterwards, I had lunch with some locals of the tour; rice with cinnamon and pepper, some type of bread and vegetables in coconut sauce, a sauce that tasted fabulous. Then met other tourists part of the same tour and went all together to a beach in the area of “Bumbwini”. In this area there is a place called “The cave of Slaves”. You guessed right, it’s a big and quite dark cave that during the 16th and 17th centuries was used to keep slaves that were traded across different parts of the world. A dark past that today only hides in the further corners of the cave. Huge is the contrast when just a couple of km away, there is a magical beach where I was able to get refreshed by the sea and by the local beverages. “Kilimanjaro” and “Safari” are the names of the beers, and “Konyagi”…a liquor quite strong (but tasty) that made me basically cough and suffocate as I drank it. A local started bursting in laugh when he saw me basically choking.
Back to Stone Town I wandered around the town a little bit. I must say that despite having a map, the structure of the town is not the most organized, which is fine but it was very easy to get lost. I must also say, that the public transport becomes a bit tricky for tourists, because unfortunately they do not go through the “touristy” spots, and if they do, I just couldn’t figure out which “Dala dala” to take without getting lost and freak out after half a km. This means, single way taxi fares that go from 10 USD to Stone Town, and 40 USD to the cool beaches of the island. It becomes very pricey if you ask me, but definitely worth it. Anyhow, I had to check-in in the villa I would spend the rest of my days in Zanzibar, in the area of “Bububu”, so took a cab and became friends with the driver, today a friend, called Yussuf. A very nice lad just my age that would drive me around both to my hotel and to the new year’s eve party about 70km to the north. I actually had way more fun in the ride than in the party but we’ll come to that later. “Imani beach villa” is the magical spot I stayed in. You feel stressed, tired, sad and want to experience beautiful sunsets? Just go there. The staff was absolutely kind and generous, all time. The owner, South African, welcomed me, offered me a fresh mango juice and said that there would be a dinner at 19:00 to say good bye to the year.
A delicious last day of the year meal that would include sea food and some South African dish called “Bunny Chow”, wine, beers and more wine and more beers. I met interesting people, mostly couples like in their middle 40’s and 50’s. All foreigners. Including a lady that just some couple of days before had a really close death encounter as she and her husband tried to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as their first climbing experience. -Not recommended for amateurs, neither for a quick trip- she said a bit sad and disappointed. But there she was, at least celebrating life. Alive. But despite the emotional moment I felt like dancing! it was 31st of december after all and heard about this “crazy” party that “everybody” was attending to. As previously said, a 80 USD ride + drinks + surprises expense record had to be cashed out if I wanted to proceed, but I mean, last day of the year? In Zanzibar? Let’s fucking go. Aaand it was…complex lol. Picture a massive amount of americans/russian/scandinavian tourists in a beach with many opened bars and dance floors. Now picture huge handsome african muscled guys trying to get game with the previous nationalities AND beautiful african women hunting the old but not the poor. And myself dancing with my beer. ALL the africans can dance like incredible. It was so crowded that it was basically impossible to get any drink at any of the bars, meaning that I had only one bloody beer in all night thanks to Yussuf’s skills. At the end I was actually able to talk a lot with him, he told me a bit about his life, his dreams, his ideals. The music was nice, people was alright, I did have fun and learned quite awesome african dancing moves courtesy of Yussuf’s lads, but at the end, I was back in the bed of my hotel at 3:00 am, exhausted, alone and fucking sober. -Well, bring it 2017- I said and went to sleep.
The next day, totally fresh and without a hung over, I was ready to explore other exotic spots of the island and with Anuar at the wheels, (the driver of the hotel that also became a good friend) I went off to the national forest park of “Kichwele”; a 50 km squared area that is home of fauna and flora specimens like the unique Colobus red monkey, the only monkey that has 4 fingers and no thumb. Also, host of unique type of plants and mangle trees that would divide the salty and sweet water parts as well as protect the island from natural disasters. Clever nature as always. A magnificent show only possible to appreciate if you truly open your eyes and not mess with the badass crabs that hide on the trees. We proceeded to go to a spot called “The Rock” on the south eastern part of the island; specifically speaking, a boutique hotel called “Upendo” where I had probably the most delicious and juicy octopus of my life, including a bloody awesome beach that was host of coral reefs, cute star fish and a zillion deadly sea urchins.
As I arrived and as you will appreciate in the pictures, the water level was quite low at the shore, like at the ankles, so it was like if the sea had some kind of “pools” and the water actual level increased at like 60-70 m away from the shore, it looked amazing! and my oh poor naive and stupid head did not understand why. But did later. I started walking to the sea, saw many cool sea species, was careful to not step in any of them and when I arrived to the “dry” area, I noticed that the sand was very muddy and sticky, it felt like Play-Doh, but couldn’t care less, swam a little bit, took cool pictures and then I realised that the “dry” area was slowly decreasing, i.e. water override, double i.e. the tide was increasing, maximum i.e. fucking sea urchins ready to attack on the way back. So as the reliable and effective problem solver engineer I am, I freaked out, ran for my bag, kept the phone on the hand and tried to get to the shore as quick as I could. Water level was above my belly button, it was not possible to walk, neither to swim without screwing the recently obtained 800€ phone. Legs shaking, evaluating all options, and the only one was to die with honor. -This is it, this how I go, this is the end, POSEIDON HELP MEEE!- I said to the Indic Ocean, as the urchins were prepared to fire at will with the minimum friction. It initially took me 8 minutes to get from the shore to the sea. 55 min for the way back. There is a restaurant at the top of the rock where you can appreciate the view, including the disgrace of a stupid tourist like me about to be drown in poisonous darts. But life was amused and gave me the skill to get to the shore, safe, sound, with no harmed sea species or coral reef and with a dry phone. Nothing like high adrenaline to feel alive uh? It was actually fucking exciting and fun.
The thing impressed me the most of this place was again the people. Everybody seemed to be happy, wether working had at the docks, or the farms or playing football at the sea. Or taking a bull into the sea just because it was hot and wanted to give cool him off. Every single time a local would look at me, they would notice I was not from around but would say hello. ALL of them. -Jambo!- to what I said -Poa!- which is “all cool” and they smiled back.
I also noticed that everybody would share what they could share, no matter who or what it was. Sharing indeed was the key part of this place. A gentleman in particular in charge of the bar of the villa; his name is Daoudi, originary from “Mbea” on the land side of Tanzania. Fervent fan of Manchester United like me. We talked everyday prior breakfast and on the afternoons for some minutes about hobbies, family, football, some dreams, some jokes. He expressed he always wanted to learn new languages including spanisg and asked if he could read some lines of the book I had with me, just to know what spanish looked like. He finished the introduction and incredibly managed to understand the general idea of it, for which he was very excited about and couldn’t stop smiling. Ladies and gentlemen this was a moment in my life where I was able to presence a person developing new dreams and will, I could tell just by looking at his eyes. -How do you pronounce that? What is this letter? It’s like italian mixed with some english and french isn’t it? Teach me!- he said, and at the same time he would teach me more swahili sentences. Just bloody brilliant. I forced myself to finish the remaining 135 pages of the book and decided to give it to him, and not because of pity or tenderness or shit like that, it was because I had a brilliant lad in from of me willing to learn and gain knowledge, to expand his mind and was knocking on the doors. Why would I stop him? Why would I actually not help and do what I can to push him forward? He smiled and hugged me twice when I gave him the book just before I left to the airport. -Until the next time, I will not forget you my friend, thank you- he said. Shit, I cannot remember the last time someone looked at my ugly face in such a happy way. Until the next time indeed bro.
The mythical door of Zanzibar, the house of Freddie Mercury, the hungry mosquitos and the amazing and crazy tropical weather. The Zanzibar Juice, the king fish with coconut sauce and green banana, exotic precious blue stones and the happy african music on the streets. The mango trees, the beautiful moon, the staggering sunsets and the smell of the rain. The smiles of the people despite any condition. The new friends. I honestly felt I was leaving my home and one or two emotional tears were shed as the plane was taking off to Jordan. I will come back, I have to. All these emotions that were flowing just reminded me that life could be very VERY rough but it’s ALWAYS worth to try being kind everyday, to share what one has, to truly listen and to be grateful of the life we live in. Emotions that reminded me that my blood is african.